This is outrageous. A scandal. They claim to be offended by a play that is said to mock the bible, and by their offence they claim the right to shut-down that play. In a pluralist, democratic society there exists no right to not be offended. Free speech provides a license to offend.

The hardline Calvinist and Caleb religious tradition speaks for a minority in Northern Ireland (although a disproportionately large segment of political unionism) and makes very grand claims for itself. That the bible is the infallible word of God and that it is not to be made fun of. That the bible is the first, last and only book and that all reason, scepticism and inquiry must capitulate to one man's niche interpretation of a religious text. 

Claims that are to many absurd, outrageous and preposterous. Claims that are outright offensive to many people. 

Upon this conflict of ideas between the religious and irreligious, and by their grand claims, the religious open themselves up to scrutiny, criticism and mockery. A basic right and function in a healthy liberal democracy. 

However, not only do these religious fundamentalists claim to know the absolute and last word of god, but they hold their grand claims to be immune from scrutiny, criticism or mockery. They claim a special right, a special privilege and special protection. 

Again. This is outrageous. For too long people in Northern Ireland have bent the knee to this kind of madness and religious fundamentalism. It's high time people said no more. Up with this we will not put. 

One, on the matter of free speech. Since John Milton in the 17th Century the freedom to entertain and express opinions, no matter how offensive to others, has been cherished as a necessary pre-condition for a political society. 

And here's the first irony. John Milton wrote his famous defence of free speech in Areopogitica during the English Civil War, and directed it against Calvinist Presbyterians who were trying to turn the country into some sort of Presbyterian theocracy. 

Since then free speech has been defended and built upon in the face of religious moralists by great men and women like John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, Rosa Luxemburg and many others. It has been upon their work and upon the known rules of ancient liberty that have given us our distinctive western culture and freedoms. 

And here's the second irony. The Protestant tradition is supposed to be an authentic expression of the hard won civil and religious liberties gained through England's Glorious Revolution. Yet why do they deny others their basic civil liberty? Why oh why have the age old lessons of the Enlightenment and classical liberalism continually escaped evangelical Protestant theo-unionism in Northern Ireland? 

Two, on the matter of church and state, we should aspire to a secular Northern Ireland. To a naked public sphere. No lawmaker should attempt to create a legal code upon a religious code. No lawmaker should attempt policy or civic action upon a religious code. Because as Andrew Sullivan said: "All faiths, even the most popular, are by definition sectarian." In Northern Ireland we aspire to a secular democracy where we protect, defend and uphold religious freedom - as a private matter of faith, not as a public matter. As Thomas Jefferson said:

"History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. "

Three, we secularists have strong beliefs, strong principles and strong convictions too. We secularists too are offended by what the religious preach. But we don't go into churches and ban those preachers who preach anti-intellectualism, anti-science and virulent religious bigotry. 

Four, to be "British" is to lead in the world. Yet theo-Unionists seem utterly committed to opting out of modernity, to shutting the door on progressive legislation, and to keeping Northern Ireland as an "outcast from life's feast" as James Joyce put it.  

It's like the American Dad episode, Stan of Arabia. Stan the archetypal misogynist, super-religious Republican suddenly finds himself right at home in Saudi Arabia where there exists oppressive laws against women, gays and basic liberties.

Four, by the decision to ban the play, people have make a rod for their own back. They have given a license to every Muslim and religious fanatic who wants to ban every last piece of art & writing that could be deemed offensive to their precious feeling and religion. By doing this, Christians have elevated religious freedom far and away beyond freedom of expression. 

They would have it that the dumbest things be pumped into people's heads, and that nothing be said of this. We owe it to ourselves to have a media and civic debate that is not staid, dull and conformist and terrified of offending people; but that is disputatious, uncivil, rude and even offensive. 

There is a difference between disapproving of something and banning it and in that difference lies a free society.

Now the DUP have decided what you can and can't see. They've done the thinking for you. Are you happy with that? Will you stand for that?

We need to be extremely vigilant against any encroachments on our hard-won freedoms to express and entertain opinions. Matters of public interest are routinely chilled by litigious ministers. The DUP have upheld an old speech law that was described as a "national embarrassment" and as "repugnant" to the US Constitution. 

The urge and impulse to censor will always be a strong one, that is why Christopher Hitchens is right to say free speech needs to be defended by every generation.